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Gas In New Flat Screen Televisions A Major Global Warming Threat

By James Donahue

Ever since Congress passed a bill in 2005 forcing television stations to shift exclusively to digital transmissions by April 7, 2009, the rush has been on to sell Americans the new flat-screen plasma or LCD television receivers.

The old analog type televisions, while still usable with the help of converter boxes or if owners subscribe to cable television service, are being quickly phased out. You can’t buy a new one in stores, and they can be purchased for next to nothing, or even given away at garage sales, junk stores and flea markets.

A recent article by Michael Prather in New Scientist magazine now warns that a gas used in making these flat screen televisions work, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), is found to be a major potential threat to the environment.

Findings suggest that NF3 may be a greenhouse gas 17,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it gets in the atmosphere. Because it is a new product, only just beginning to be used on new televisions, computer monitors and other electronic gadgets, not a lot of NF3 is believed to have been released into the atmosphere to date.

In fact, levels of this gas in the atmosphere have not been measured. It was not even a factor in the Kyoto protocol. But it is certainly going to be a major factor in the looming battle to halt global warming.

The disposal of old flat screen televisions, computer monitors, I-pods and electronic game toys filled with NF3 promises to be a major challenge in the months and years ahead. In the rush to buy even newer and more interesting electronic devices, we won’t be allowed to dispose of the old stuff in the conventional way . . . by dropping it off at the local landfill.

How much NF3 can we expect to escape into the atmosphere just through the process of making it, or from natural disasters that destroy homes and the televisions in them?

Why would our legislators pass a law forcing such a shift in American television viewing? Most likely it was due to heavy lobbying efforts on the part of the electronics industry, and designed to generate a boon in sales of a broad new spectrum of television sets just coming on the market.

We are promised that the shift will provide improvements in picture and sound quality. Also, the change to digital transmission frees the old radio frequencies, used in analog television transmissions, to fill a demand for more radio communications, mostly by police and fire departments.